NFC North: Final Word 2010 Divisional

Final Word: Packers at Falcons

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
4:00
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Ravens-Steelers | Jets-Patriots | Packers-Falcons | Seahawks-Bears

Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Packers-Falcons divisional game:

[+] EnlargeTony Gonzalez
AP Photo/Paul AbellWill Tony Gonzalez be able to repeat the performance he had against the Packers in Week 12?
Odds: Much of our coverage this week, available through this handy "Return to Atlanta" filter, has suggested the Green Bay Packers have a genuine opportunity to upset the NFC's top-seeded team. Even as oddsmakers established the Atlanta Falcons as a slim 1-point favorite, that tone created considerable consternation among some Falcons fans I've heard from. So we should at least point out the recent history of the No. 1 seed. Since 1990, the NFC's top-seeded team is 18-2 in the division round. Yes, this season's Week 12 game between the two teams was close, and the Packers are getting plenty of respect from Las Vegas. But if the Packers do pull off a victory, it will be only the third time in 21 years that a No. 1 seed has lost in the divisional round.

Matching up with Tony G.: The Packers held Falcons receiver Roddy White to a manageable five receptions in the Week 12 meeting, but tight end Tony Gonzalez had a big game. Gonzalez caught all six passes thrown his way, although the NFL would later agree one should have been ruled incomplete, and scored on a 4-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. According to Football Outsiders' calculations, the Packers ranked No. 22 in the NFL during the regular season in defending tight ends. That makes Gonzalez a key to this game.

Pressure-packed: Saturday night's game will mark the fourth consecutive win-or-else game for the Packers, who believe that extended pressure will aid their playoff run. It began in Week 16, when the Packers learned that the only way they could guarantee a playoff berth was to win their final two regular-season games. They defeated the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in successive weeks, and then dispatched the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday in the wild-card round. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said there is "no doubt" that end-of-season mentality was important. "This team had its back against the wall," he added. "We have a really resilient team."

Final Word: Seahawks at Bears

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
4:00
PM ET
Divisional Final Word: Ravens-Steelers | Jets-Patriots | Packers-Falcons | Seahawks-Bears

Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Seahawks-Bears divisional game at Soldier Field:

Big favorites: The Chicago Bears are 9.5-point favorites to beat the Seattle Seahawks and advance to play for the right to go to the Super Bowl. We discussed some of the reasons during the week, and that coverage is all available through the "Bears and Hawks" filter. In the big picture, observers see a Seahawks team that is now 8-9, including 2-6 away from Qwest Field, and has only one road playoff victory in franchise history. Overall, the Bears are 11-7 in the playoffs at home. Stranger things have happened, but there aren't many people predicting a Bears loss this weekend.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBears quarterback Jay Cutler will be making his first postseason start Sunday against Seattle.
Many knowledge nuggets: The Bears are in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, but their veteran roster nevertheless provides a wealth of playoff experience. A total of 27 Bears players have appeared in 114 playoff games over their careers. That number includes 17 starters when you count punter Brad Maynard and place-kicker Robbie Gould. Quarterback Jay Cutler is the notable exception. As we noted this week, Cutler hasn't played in a postseason game since his senior year of high school. Regardless, this is a team that should handle the emotional rigors of a playoff atmosphere.

Dollars and sense: A victory Sunday should lock up a contract extension for coach Lovie Smith, if that hasn't already happened. It's hard to imagine a coach who takes his team to the NFC Championship Game not having at least a few years added to his deal when in Smith's situation. Otherwise, Smith would enter 2011 in the final year of his contract. To the surprise of everyone, Smith guided his team to a legitimate accomplishment this year as NFC North champions. A playoff victory should be all it takes for the McCaskey family to break open their bank.

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